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As Hiram Bingham wrote, in his first report published in the National Geographic issue of April 1913, Machu Picchu "... this wonderful city, whose charm can only dimly be realized from these pictures. The beautiful blue of the tropical sky, the varying shades of green that clothe the magnificent mountains, and the mysterious charm of the roaring rapids thousands of feet below cannot be portrayed and can with difficulty be imagined."

Machu Picchu, located in the mountains of Peru, was our final destination, but we also enjoyed sightseeing in Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and other places in rural sections of the country via bus tours. We, Tahleen, Robert, and a friend Ken, were assisted by tour personnel arranged through a tourist company in San Francisco. Even though we were not part of any large tour group, sightseeing was sometimes with larger groups.

After an uneventful flight from the USA, we landed in Lima, Peru, a city of over 7,000,000 people. Our hotel, 20 or 30 minutes from the airport, was located in Miraflores, one of the nicer sections of town and close to the Pacific Ocean. A short walk from the hotel, past colorful houses and entrances, was a mini shopping mall on a cliff overlooking the ocean where one could shop, indulge in snacks, or consume a full meal. We ate lunch with an unrestricted view of the Pacific while peering at unusual manikins placed around the mall. A later bus tour of Lima had us seeing streets, the Plaza Mayor with the impressive Cathedral, important colonial buildings, museums, etc. A short walk from the Plaza Mayor took us to the famed Monasterio de San Francisco "the jewel of colonial Lima". The interior is fascinating, decorated in Mudejar (Andalusian Moorish) style. The library in this Monasterio contained some gorgeous manuscripts of music.

The next segment of our trip was by plane over the snow-capped Andes mountains to Cusco. Cusco of approximately 1,000,000 people, is at 10,860 feet elevation. Machu Picchu is at only 8,200 feet of altitude. When we arrived at the hotel in Cusco, they immediately had us drink coca tea to help us overcome altitude sickness. We often felt a bit giddy and had headaches, being short of oxygen, but did not have serious altitude sickness.

After resting a little, we were met by the van that took us on an orientation tour of Cusco and of several Inca archaeological sites just outside of Cusco. Many of the Catholic churches and cathedrals were built on top of destroyed Inca palaces or temples. The main Cathedral, built on what had been the palace of Inca Wiracocha, has a magnificent altar of solid silver, and an intriguing painting of the Last Supper that shows the food as being corn and a "cuy" (guinea pig). By far, the most impressive of these churches over Inca ruins is the one named Iglesia Santo Domingo, built over the famed Coricancha temple, known as the Temple of the Sun. A beautifully Inca-built curved wall is still there, built of stones. Inside this church there are more examples of Inca master building unmoved from their original location.

The remains of the Inca stone buildings and foundations in Cusco are the best of the Inca empire, probably because Cusco was the Inca capital city. The Spanish often used the Inca stone foundations for the foundations of the buildings they produced. It is amazing that the Incas could cut, finish, drill holes, and transport large hunks of granite of various shapes with a few small tools of brass and stone rocks. Furthermore, the Incas fit them together in perfect joints of complex shapes without mortar for foundations and walls.

Cusco and Machu Picchu are not the only sites of Inca ruins in the mountains and valleys of Peru. Sacsayhuaman, Q'enko, Puca Pucara and Tambomachay are the archaeological sites just outside of Cusco that we visited. The most impressive was Sacsayhuaman, a superbly built fortress with double zigzag walls. Note the size of these walls by viewing this photo. It is estimated that tens of thousands of workers labored on this fortress for up to seven decades. During the Great Rebellion led by Manco Inca against the Spanish in 1536, the Incas laid seige on Cusco from Sacsayhuaman. Though they laid seige for many months, in the end, the Spanish won. Tambomachay had been a country residence. It had a marvelous hydraulic system, with aqueducts that fed water into showers. The Inca were very clean, and bathed daily. At Tambomachay the water was still flowing.

One night we dined at the Inka Grill, right on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. We were impressed by how easily we could get to what we wanted to see and do in Cusco since our Hotel was right on the Plaza de Armas. The only drawback was the numerous people (many of them children) who kept wanting to sell us whatever they had, including modeling rights, since many of the children were dressed colorfully and often carried live lambs or other animals, and wanted to be photographed for a price. The Inka Grill was very lovely. Of course, we started with a pisco sour. We liked them so much that each dinner thereafter would be prefaced by a pisco sour, or two. There was musical entertainment where we heard the first of many versions of El Condor Pasa, beautifully plaintive and evocative.

On Monday, May 12th we had a day to do whatever we liked, even if that meant lying around and resting (which we did not choose to do). Ken had to do some work at the Internet Cafe around the corner. Amazingly, even in the smallest town, Aguas Calientes, the Internet was readily available. We also had time to roam, do some shopping and visit the well-organized Museo del Inca. We celebrated happy hour at El Truco on Plaza San Francisco, just a block off of Plaza de Armas. That night our dinner was a buffet (some of us sampled alpaca and "cuy") with folklore music and some dancing to regale us.

Next came the all-day bus tour on Tuesday to the Sacred Valley on the Urubamba River. We could make a separate report only on what we saw that one day! We should mention the inspired tour guide we had; his English was excellent, but more importantly he was well informed, and truly passionate about the Inca and their civilization. Wherever he would stop, he would give us historical background as well as up-to-the-minute commentary on what we were seeing. For example, when he stopped to show us our first view of the Sacred Valley, with the Urubamba River way below us, he pointed out the corn being dried in patches of white color. At Pisaq we visited a large Indian Market. Our lunch was at El Maisal, in the town of Urubamba, under some attractive blue tents, again reveling in Andean flute music (including El Condor Pasa...).

Continuing with the bus tour, we visited Ollantaytambo. This is a National Archaeological Park and was a huge Inca farming complex of terraces as well as a fortress. We were so impressed by the storehouses the Inca built, perched on the sides of mountains! It is one of the best preserved of all the Inca settlements. We thrilled at trodding the terraces built so many years ago, and still capable of being farmed. Our last stop was Chinchero, even higher than Cusco (12,415 feet) and only 20 miles away. The Spanish-Colonial church there is beautiful, though the Andean landscape surrounded by glaciers was even more beautiful.

Wednesday we travelled three and a half hours by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. What can one say about that ride? That it was lovely, yes, but more than that, much more -- actually words fail. The first view of snow-capped mountains so very close by, and straight up, brought tears to the eyes of at least one of our party. They served a substantial snack on the train, and by 10:30 or so we arrived at our hotel in Aguas Calientes where the streets are for walking only. Cars do not exist in Aguas Calientes since there are no roads that lead to Aguas Calientes, and cars are not shipped in by train. Buses that go to Machu Picchu do not travel the city streets. One of the first activities we saw at Aguas Calientes was a crew building a street.

After arriving by train at Aguas Calientes, we were led to a bus that took us to the Machu Picchu ruins on an unpaved road with hairpin turns. Though the guided tour of the Machu Picchu ruins was a little rushed, we had a good introduction to it. If we could write a whole separate report on the Sacred Valley, can you imagine how much we could write about Machu Picchu? We'll just mention: the main East entrance, the Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana, carved from the actual top of a little mountain, a cave carved in stone under the Temple of the Sun, the Three Windows Temple, the terraces. Tahleen and Ken, hiked the Inca Trail to the Door of the Sun. It was an easy climb, nothing like the one that we chose to do the following day, though we felt we should rest frequently enough.

You see, we had planned for another full day at the ruins, with no guide, just to do as we pleased. The one thing we most wanted to do was to climb Huayna Picchu, 2700 meters high up into the clouds, on precarious and uneven stones, narrow trails, no railings, sometimes aided by cables or ropes to hang onto or pull ourselves to the next step. We had to log in before starting the climb, and indicate our age. One of us was the oldest one to climb that day, and probably many other days. But the views and the exhilaration of getting to the top was unequaled and completely memorable! Trying to wind down at dinner across the street from our hotel, the Machu Picchu Inn in Aguas Calientes, we kept grinning and were so pleased with ourselves for having done this special climb we didn't really need the pisco sours!

Friday saw Tahleen visiting the termas (hot springs). They are located at the top of the street in Aguas Calientes where our hotel was located. The small complex consists of several pools, nice and hot but not as hot as the Termas de Arapey, in Uruguay. Our last meal at Aguas Calientes was a very complete buffet at a restaurant by the river, where, once again we started with pisco sours and were serenaded by a musician who played El Condor Pasa. Well, of course, not only El Condor Pasa.

The train ride back, starting at 15:30, included a cute fashion show put on by the steward and stewardess and ended up with an astounding sight of the full moon over Cusco. We had another dinner at Cusco that night, as Los Candiles. We were so excited! So pleased with our visit to MP! We couldn't stop chatting and laughing and teasing the waiter, and letting him tease us! What a treat!

The final days were boring and tiresome, especially compared to what had gone on before. We left Cusco later than anticipated, because of a delay in the flight; we still enjoyed the almost four-hour rest in the Lima Hotel Leon de Oro, which we had arranged to have as "day use;" we did not enjoy the flight back from Lima to New York (we were all separated) and two of us ended up in the middle of strangers in the three-seat middle section; neither did we enjoy the hanging around New York, the short hop to Boston (!), the hanging around in Boston, and finally the short hop to Baltimore. Our friend Paul Thiebaud picked us up, and we finally got home about 19:00, tired but so pleased with the most fascinating and awesome trip ever!

Most, if not all of the different buildings and areas of Machu Picchu, were named by Hiram Bingham who first explored the ruins and recognized the significance of Machu Picchu, but had to guess as to the activities of the people who lived in Machu Picchu. There are no Inca written documents to help determine the accuracy of what we are told about the history of the area. So, the statements of this report regarding Machu Picchu are based on whatever has been written in books, told to us by tour guides, or experienced through a short tourist visit.

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    Robert and Tahleen Nabors